By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
This year’s HITEC near the tail end of September is bound to be a riot for two main reasons. To start, if you exclude last year’s virtual event, this will one of the first marquee gatherings since lockdowns rolled out in March 2020. Second would be the pandemic itself which may have irreversibly disrupted the hotel operating model to favor a heavier tech stack to support a hyper-efficient labor model.
But fundamental to HITEC, any vendor demo or any implementation is to have a vision for how the technology will improve operations, both in hard as well as in the soft, intangible ways. Investing in technology should not be regulated to ‘box checkers’ but those who understand the nuisances of human psychology and how they apply for both guests as well as your own teams.
Due to all the factors that COVID-19 has catalyzed – primarily a need for contactless experiences, enabling remote work and helping alleviate short-staffed properties – it behooves every hotelier in every department to not only understand the many intricacies of those platforms already deployed, but to also investigate further technological upgrades so as to ‘future proof’ the hotel.
As has often been remarked about the pandemic, many of the resultant trends affecting hospitality are ones that would have transpired regardless, but that the evolution occurred over a matter of months and not years. Such trends as online training, mobile keys, contactless check-in and check-out, digital payments, guest messaging apps, online sentiment analysis, robust CRMs, smarter maintenance work order systems and housekeeping optimization software all existed prior to Covid, but there was no gun to our heads, so we didn’t act.
The next decade for hotels and resorts will be defined by those organizations that are able to strip away the 20th-century mentality of good service only being possible via high-touch interactivity with the guest. Many of the pandemic-born traveler behaviors are here to stay and customers will continue to prefer those properties that embrace the convenience (and safety) of no-touch service delivery. Moreover, with the current labor shortage, high touch may not be feasible without huge wage subsidies.
While we are all yearning for the delta variant to not become a prolonged crisis so that we can get back to business as usual, the sad truth is that there’s no going back. Accepting this and embracing its implications necessitates a profound cultural shift within your organization so that you can continue to find technological solutions that will put your hotel(s) at the forefront year after year.
Here are some steps you can take to make that happen:
• At the most basic level, all managers should be invited to share their thoughts on any pain points they are experiencing so that tech solutions can be identified to solve those needs
• Embracing tech must start at the top for acceptance at the lower rungs to occur, and thus both owners and GMs should encourage new tech discussions within executive committee meetings
• Set up specific monthly or bimonthly meetings to review what can be done to enhance operations in every single department
• Share technology articles internally, either peer-to-peer via email or LinkedIn, or posted on the company bulletin
• Cross-departmental presentations that can be added into any town hall whereby one team members gives a quick overview of the tech they use and how it helps
• Siloed thinking must not only be discouraged but also reprimanded so that managers feel empowered to share what ideas they conjure up or what articles they read, all of which may benefit another department not specifically under their purview
• Going one step further, perhaps it should be a part of every hotelier’s job description to read about the latest and greatest developments, either with a smaller time allotment set aside each week or something that is to be done outside of regular office hours
• Traditionally, only IT directors, GMs, asset managers and owners have had the privilege of attending tradeshows focusing on tech, but perhaps there’s room here to motivate team members from other departments by letting them attend once in a while
• User conferences or virtual training seminars designed to widen the usage of the full feature set within a current platform should be heavily promoted
• While you likely have little power over what schools teach their students, all younger or new hires should be screened for their aptitude and attitude towards enterprise platforms
• Senior executives must know tech – no exceptions – with some form of testing, oral or written that assesses a broad understanding of core software and common physical devices, required prior to signing on any new director or team leader
• Climate change is not something hotels can ignore, with automation tools that affect numerous operations helping to curve energy usage and realize some cost savings in the process, and be conscious of this global movement must become a part of your culture in order to derive technological solutions that will help
Above all, what should be stressed is how technology can help reinforce the vision for the future of the organization and any properties owned or managed. Thinking ahead ten years, what does a popular urban hotel look like? What new amenities and features does it have that are only pipedreams today? How is technology incorporated into the guest experience in ways where it is presently lacking? And how would this be different for a resort? How will technology help to reduce ‘busy work’ so that managers have more free time to actually think about the bigger picture?
These are some of the questions we ask when we approach a tradeshow like HITEC, any vendor presentation as well as what to authorize for our client hotels. Have vision and think beyond the operating expenses so that you can build a solid foundation for future growth.